Questions about teaching Young Learners (aged 6-11) (useful links!)

(All links working as of 27/10/2021)

On the CELTA course I tutored on back in August 2021, I ran a session on teaching under 16s. As part of it, I asked the trainees to create a list of questions they wanted the answers to. I promised them a blogpost with answers, but it’s taken this long to get round to it!

It’s actually ended up as three blogposts, divided into:

The age brackets may seem a little arbitrary – I selected them as they reflected to some extent the age ranges at schools I’ve previously worked for. The posts themselves are mostly a selection of links to answer the questions, rather than my own answers. Please feel free to add extra links in the comments, and let me know if any of the links are broken.

Classroom for young learners – photo by Roseli Serra from ELTpics, shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence

Are the techniques that we discussed in the CELTA course suitable for young learners?

CELTA is primarily designed for teachers working with adults, but many of the techniques and activities covered on the course are applicable to teaching young learners too. For example, you still need to make sure that your activity set-up is clear and concise, that it’s supported with demonstrations, and that you check students have understood your instructions. I think the two main differences to be aware of are the developmental stage of young learners (they may not be able to do certain things which adults can do easily) and their concentration span. You will probably need to move onto new activities more quickly with young learners, though they can still get very engaged in some activities and do them for far longer than you might expect. As a general rule though, I plan to change activities every 5 minutes or so in the YL classroom, and I aim to include a mix of stirrers and settlers (ideas from British Council and Cambridge).

What coursebooks are good for this age range?

I’d rather not recommend specific coursebooks, not least because they change so frequently, and there are so many on the market I can’t possibly know the best ones 😉 Instead, think of criteria that you believe are important for your learners. For example, you might want a book that includes some or all of the following:

  • Manageable amounts of vocabulary (probably 6-10 new items per lesson – the younger they are, the fewer they can probably retain from one lesson to the next)
  • Grammatical structures presented in sentences / as functional language to learn implicitly – the older they are, the more that young learners might be able to cope with explicit grammar study, and perhaps also metalanguage (for example tense names) (see Carol Read on Grammar)
  • Lots of recycling of vocabulary and structures
  • A set of characters who are consistent through the book
  • A story that is told throughout the book
  • Songs/chants
  • Project ideas
  • Extra reading
  • A teacher’s book in your L1/English
  • A workbook with extra practice activities
  • Extra online activities / an accompanying website

Ask publishers if you can speak to teachers (or even students!) who’ve used their books – that might help you to decide.

What kind of tasks work with this age group?

Think about how old the children are, what kind of activities might appeal to them and what they are able to do developmentally. Make sure you’re choosing activities which are achievable, but which also provide a little challenge, pushing them to learn more.

This series of articles from OneStopEnglish shows how to use video, dramatic play, music and movement, and stories in the classroom – it requires you to login – you can read one free article per month.

Grammar activities from Carol Read

Flashcard activities from Carol Read

Poster activities from Carol Read

Activities with sets of pictures (especially if children have their own sets of pictures) from Carol Read

Class surveys

Using music

Get them moving, including online. Here are some ideas from Shannon Thwaites:

How do I present topics?

This is quite a broad question 🙂 Some ideas from the question above might help, or here are others which aren’t about specific types of task.

How to work with vocabulary, and fun ways to teach young children vocabulary

Alex Case suggests ways of using the topics of animals and toys to present a wide range of different language.

Should I use games?

And the supplementary questions: How much fun is too much fun during the lesson? How do I incorporate entertainment into my lesson and still keep it productive? Where is the balance between a game and a serious task completion?

Absolutely, yes! Games are very important.

Thanks to JoannaESL for telling me about this series of videos from WOW English, showcasing a range of different games you can play with YLs:

How do I get and keep their attention?

20 ways to get the attention of a class of noisy students

50 call and response ideas (the teacher says/does the first half, the class says/does the second)

Maintaining concentration with young learners

5 ways to keep students’ attention

Engaging kids through Zoom by Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone:

How do I increase their motivation?

Through the use of content, language and learning skills says Jane Harding da Rosa

6 Useful Tips for Motivating Children to Learn English

Motivating young learners, including some ‘tips from the top’

What kind of homework should I give? How much?

See Jane’s presentation in the question above for the difference between ‘homework’ and ‘home-learning’

Ideas for setting homework for young learners

How do I think about timing in lessons with YL?

How to improve your lesson timing and Timing your classes both offer general advice.

The only extra thing I would add about young learners is that it’s worth planning in 5-minute chunks, aiming to shift the focus/activity every 5 minutes or so. If it’s a particularly engaging task, like a project, it might go for longer, but even then you may need to check in with them every few minutes to make sure they’re still on task.

How do I work on group dynamics?

I couldn’t find any specific links connected to building group dynamics with young learners (please add any suggestions in the comments if you know of some). The closest thing I could find is Why putting children together in groups doesn’t always work.

This is my post about group dynamics with all groups, though mostly focussing on adults.

Shall I adapt the book materials, creating my own worksheets for each lesson?

This question comes with more context: “All the tasks in the coursebook for YL (the first year of learning English) I use in a state school are written in Russian. I wish I could choose a book, but I can’t. I guess it’s not beneficial for a communicative approach.”

Without seeing the book myself and not knowing the context first-hand, it’s difficult for me to answer this question specifically. However, I would say that creating your own worksheets for each lesson is very time-consuming, creates a lot of work for you, and could lead to burnout. Instead, think about how you can exploit the materials you have in a range of different ways, and how you can incorporate opportunities to use English throughout the lesson.

How do I stop them from using L1 in class? How do I encourage them to speak English?

Micaela Carey’s ideas of using flags and cards and her experience of using L1 with young learners

How to encourage children who are not confident speaking in English – although aimed at parents, a lot of this advice is useful for teachers too

Encouraging more use of English in class

How do I keep them under control?

25 strategies to help pre-empt problem behaviour

Make the most of classroom management, says Jane Harding da Rosa and add body language to help them understand

Micaela Carey’s ideas for classroom management

Build relationships with the children

Alex Case talks about possible problems with the running around game ‘stations’ and suggests a wide range of ways to adapt it. These could help you in thinking about ways to adapt other games/activities too.

Prepare to deal with some common classroom problems

I’m teaching kids one-to-one. How do I plan interesting lessons for them?

Tips to make your lesson fun (one to one)

Teaching young children one-to-one from One Stop English: it requires you to login – you can read one free article per month, so choose carefully or subscribe!

What blogs can I read?

I added this question 🙂 Please let me know about others!

There must be more than this, but apparently I don’t follow them! Suggestions in the comments please…

Questions about teaching Very Young Learners (aged 2-5) (useful links!)

(All links working as of 26/10/2021)

It’s actually ended up as three blogposts, divided into:

The age brackets may seem a little arbitrary – I selected them as they reflected to some extent the age ranges at schools I’ve previously worked for. The posts themselves are mostly a selection of links to answer the questions, rather than my own answers. Please feel free to add extra links in the comments, and let me know if any of the links are broken.

A row of shoes – photo by Vicky Loras from ELTpics, shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence

Do you think it is a good idea to start learning English at a very young age (e.g. 2)?

This is an area which has generated quite a lot of research over the years, and as with anything so context-based, the answer seems to be ‘it depends’. Here are some answers to the question that have been shared in the media:

It’s also important to be aware of what such young children are likely to be able to do in their own language at this age. Here’s an example for English-speaking children from an Australian website, but it’s worth looking up for the first language of the children you’re teaching too.

My thoughts are that it depends on what you’re aiming to achieve by sending your child to English classes so young, or by exposing them to the language in other ways such as through English-language TV. If it’s efficiency, then starting to learn when they’re a little older can get them where you want them to be in less time as they can be analytical about the process, and pay attention to rules as well as what they learn from exposure. But starting to learn when they’re younger, enjoying the process and building up a love for the language can increase their motivation and make them want to continue learning.

Are there any specific techniques for teaching very young learners?

First up, it’s important to know what Very Young Learners actually means. Kylie Malinowska can help. She also tells us how they learn and what the practical implications of that are.

Here are some useful tips from Shelly Ann Vernon (with a little advertising of her products in there too)

Lesson planning for very young learners for the everyday and when you find you have to change everything at the last minute, both from Anka Zapart (whose blog features heavily in this post!)

Ten things I wish I had known when I started teaching VYLs by Claire Elliot, a similar article with a slightly different set of tips from London School of Languages, and one more from Andrew Tiffany for National Geographic.

Circle Time by Micaela Carey

Using a puppet – Anka Zapart’s Angelina (including links to extra reading) and Carol Read’s ideashttps://www.carolread.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/VYL_puppet.pdf

Using songs – why you should use them and activities you can do with them from Anka, and Kylie tells us what to do if you’re a bit scared of singing with your students

Using jazz chants – Carol Read’s intro/overview, Jane Harding da Rosa on creating chants, with a vocabulary example, and what is and isn’t an example of a chant.

Using storybooks

Using flashcards – Alex Case

Games to play with very young learners

Guessing games

The importance of free play

Sit-down activities, to mix with activities getting them moving

Ideas and activities for VYLs by Dorka Brozik:

Teaching VYLs in a digital classroom by Justyna Mikulak:

How do I make lessons more interactive? How do I keep them busy and interested for more time?

Hand over to the children as much as you can, once you’ve clearly demonstrated an activity. Children learn the word ‘teacher’ very quickly, so you can say ‘Maria, you’re the teacher’ They might not understand at first, but very soon they can take control and be in charge of activities. Here’s one example.

Presenting vocabulary in an engaging way

Ideas for using flashcards in online lessons, all of which are interactive

Which tools can I use?

I’m going to interpret this question as ‘What can I use other than a coursebook/worksheet to teach VYLs?’ There are lots of ideas in the techniques above, but here are a few more.

Top 10 favourite EFL tools by Anka Zapart

Super Simple Songs

Project learning to help parents see progress

How much information should I give at once?

Not much! Typical VYL coursebooks introduce 3-4 new items of lexis, or one structure, in a single 45-minute lesson. They also include lots of recycling as children of this age forget quickly.

How do I control discipline? What do I do if they don’t pay attention?

25 strategies to help pre-empt problem behaviour from Carol Read

Routines in the VYL classroom by Lisa Wilson:

Another idea for routines: 15 ways to finish a preschool English lesson, by Alex Case.

The 12 days of managing VYL classes by Kylie

Make the most of classroom management, says Jane Harding da Rosa and add body language to help them understand

Micaela Carey’s ideas for classroom management

Build relationships with the children

What to do when the world begins to fall apart

Things kids bring to class, and what to do about it

15 techniques for calming down a pre-school class

15 variations for large pre-school classes

How do I make them participate?

Think about how old the children are, what kind of activities might appeal to them and what they are able to do developmentally. Make sure you’re choosing activities which are achievable, but which also provide a little challenge, pushing them to learn more.

Remember that they might be going through a silent period – there are still plenty of activities they can do.

Here’s some advice on what to do if children join the class mid-year – they may be reluctant to participate, but there’s a lot you can do to help them.

How do I teach them grammar and phonology?

Most of the teaching you do in the VYL classroom will be based on vocabulary and building chunks of language. Grammar is learnt intrinsically, rather than studied as a separate thing. Here’s some information from Carol Read about how young children learn grammar, and from Michelle Worgan about teaching chunks of language to VYLs.

Phonology is learnt through imitation. The use of songs and jazz chants (see the first question above) can be useful for creating the motivation to imitate the teacher/the materials you use. These are probably the best way to drill new sounds, though you can also play around with the differences between sounds the children are producing and the target sounds. For example, use contrastive drills where you move from one sound to the other and back again, and really emphasise the mouth shape in each position.

Homework: how much and what kind should I give?

A-Z of homework for Very Young Learners, including the answer to the question ‘Should we even think of setting homework for preschoolers?’

Listening homework tasks you can create yourself

Drawing lessons

This page from the British Council has advice for things parents can do at home to support their child’s English learning.

Is it possible to teach them avoiding L1 in class?

Anka Zapart’s beliefs about using L1 in class and some conversations she’s overheard about attitudes to using L1

Micaela Carey’s experience of using L1 with young learners

What do I do if young learners protest against using English?

(in case they already speak and at some point want to use only L1)

To some extent this is answered in the previous question, but I think it’s also worth considering why they are protesting against using English, and whether it’s a one-off or something more regular. Are they bored? Are they uncomfortable in the lesson/group? Are they looking for attention? The answer to this question will help you decide what to do.

If they’re bored, you need to find ways to change your activities, for example by getting them moving around for a few minutes rather than sitting down.

If they’re uncomfortable in the lesson, what can you do to help them relax? Sometimes a time-out, or a chance to sit apart from the group can be useful to allow children time to de-stress. At other times, moving onto a new activity could help.

If they’re uncomfortable in the group, building in activities to help them share with other members of the group and learn a little about their classmates can help, for example, bringing their favourite toy to class.

If they’re looking for attention, follow Anka’s advice.

How do I stay calm? 🙂

Breathe 🙂

Prepare to deal with some common classroom problems

And here’s a first lesson survival kit for working with VYLs.

What blogs can I read?

I added this question 🙂 You’ll notice that a lot of the links come from a limited range of sources, because they’re the blogs I follow which deal with this age group. Please let me know about others!

  • Funky Socks and Dragons – Anka Zapart – very active as I write this (and most of the links here come from Anka’s amazing blog!)
  • Klokanomil – Kylie Malinowska – not currently active, but a great archive
  • Carol Read’s ABC of Teaching Children – not currently active, but a great archive

NILE MAPDLE MAT: Materials development module (extra reading)

It’s nearly three months since I completed the live parts of the module (!) and I’ve finally got time to get back to the course input I didn’t have time for during the three weeks in July. When I did weeks one, two and three, I found it useful to summarise what I read/watched on my blog, so I’m going to do the same for this additional input too.

These are notes I’ve made while reading. The notes are there for me, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests! 

Getting learners involved

These notes are based on chapter 8 of McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching [Amazon affiliate link for 2016 edition] on involving learners in the materials adaptation/production process.

Utilising learner language

You can use learner language as ‘learning-teaching material’ in a range of ways (additional information about the benefits of each activity can be found in the chapter):

  • ‘Retrospective error focus’ (p164)
    Make them written (unless you’re focussing on pron)
    Include context
    Include correct examples
    Group similar errors together
    Keep the list a manageable length
    > “It is a good idea to keep the lists and to label them with a note of the date, the class and the activity from which they were taken.” (p164)
    The materials can be as revision with this group, or to predict problems other learners might have (see next idea)
  • ‘Prospective error focus’ (p165)
    Predict errors learners might make and give a task based on these.
  • ‘Learner transcriptions of their own stories’ (p165)
    Record a story (with permission!) as a learner tells it
    The learner then transcribes it, correcting it and highlighting any areas where they feel unsure
    The teacher checks the transcription with the recording and responds to learner questions
    The materials allow for personalised, focussed correction
  • ‘Learner generated texts for use with other learners’ (p166)
    Students tell a pre-prepared story to a small group based on prompts
    The group choose one story to develop, tell the class, and write up, along with comprehension questions
    The story is recorded
    The materials can be used with other learners
  • Drama (p167)
    Students improvise and collaborate on a script / recordings of scenes
    The materials can be used with other learners
  • ‘Transcript comparison’ (p168)
    Based on images or short video extracts, students record a description of what’s happening
    They transcribe the description
    They compare their transcript to another group
    They can also compare their transcript to a recording/transcript of a more advanced speaker doing the same task
  • ‘Picture description for exam preparation’ (p169)
    e.g. Students record a 1-minute description of photos for a Cambridge exam – they can’t make notes, but can re-record as many times as they like
    They transcribe the recording
    They can correct the transcription
    The teacher can provide feedback / prepare additional practice based on problem areas

Learner-produced exercises and worksheets

Rather than the teacher doing all of the work, students could:

  • Create flashcards.
  • Prepare a paragraph describing X e.g. a recent news event. Put all of the verbs into the infinitive. Other students then supply the correct verb forms.
  • Design a questionnaire.

McGrath suggests the following caveats:

1. exercises should be kept relatively short (e.g. five gap-filling sentences);

2. the exercise designer marks the answers of the other students and discusses with them any wrong answers;

3. the teacher circulates during the exercise-writing, answering and feedback stages and helps to settle any disputes;

4. students rewrite their exercises in the light of feedback from other students.

McGrath (2002) p170

Learners as teachers

Learners as teachers of other learners

Implicit in the argument for learner-made materials is an acceptance of the learner as a potential teacher of other learners.

McGrath (2002) p171

This section seems to build on the previous two.

Teachers also test, but what they test reflects their ideas of what is important. […] learners might be asked to construct tests for each other (with the teacher providing guidance in the form of ‘model’ test types) (Clarke 1989b). This will not only stimulate them to review what they have been learning, it may also reveal important differences between learner and teacher perceptions of what is significant.

McGrath (2002) p171 (my emphasis)

There’s a fascinating description of what happened when Assinder (1991) handed over materials creation to her class on Current Affairs – two groups preparing work for each other, getting into intense discussions about the language they heard in the video clips they were using and the activities to be created. (p172-173) She listed these effects of involving the learners like this (p173):

  1. increased motivation
  2. increased participation
  3. increased ‘real’ communication
  4. increased in-depth understanding
  5. increased responsibility for own learning and commitment to the course
  6. increased confidence and respect for each other
  7. increased number of skills and strategies practised and developed
  8. increased accuracy.

Learners as teachers of teachers

The book suggests learners preparing questions for ‘a native English-speaking teacher […] teaching a monocultural class’ about the local culture. As the book was written in 2002, I feel like this is of its time and (hopefully!) wouldn’t make it’s way into a book now. It’s also very limited in vision – there are so many things that learners can teach teachers, regardless of both of their backgrounds! I also don’t understand why it’s only preparing questions – that seems to be testing the teacher, rather than teaching them. What about creating a guide to something they know about (their job, the place they live, a particular style of cooking, their hobby…), or introducing people (famous or otherwise), or really anything that involves learners sharing what they know with the teacher.

Learner-based teaching

What is novel about learner-based teaching is the idea that all activities can be based on [students’] wealth of experience, be they grammar exercises, exam preparation, games or translation…

Campbell and Kryszewska 1992: 5; original emphasis, in McGrath (2002) p174

This immediately rang alarm bells for me (see my notes on ‘Towards less humanistic teaching’ in the MAT week three post). Thankfully on p175 (and in the caveats below), McGrath details some of the disadvantages of this approach, but also notes that:

For teachers working within an externally-defined course framework, the answer may be to use learner-based activities as a complement to other, textbook-based work; for teachers who are more autonomous, it is probably still desirable to introduce such ideas gradually […]

McGrath (2002) p175

Deller (1990) suggests periodically handing potentially interesting materials which she has previously stored away over to learners to classify or select from.

This material [created by the learners] has the advantage of being understood by them, feeling close to them, and perhaps most importantly of all, being theirs rather than something imposed on them. As a result they feel more comfortable and involved, and have no problems in identifying with it.

Deller 1990: 2, in McGrath (2002) p175

Tudor (1996: 15-16) suggests a typology of learner-generated activities (McGrath, 2002: 176):

  1. activities in which learner knowledge is utilised as a source of input
    bringing their own content to lessons
  2. activities in which the learners’ L1 is used
    bringing L1 into the classroom
  3. direct learner involvement in activity development and organisation
    handing over responsibility from the teacher to learners for materials selection, explanation, and ‘diagnosis and evaluation’
  4. affectively-based activities
    giving ‘learners scope to use their imaginative skills, creativity and sense of fun’ (p16)

Caveats

McGrath lists three caveats to getting learners involved (p177).

  1. “It needs to be recognised that if the materials used are restricued to those produced by learners this will have an effect on their ability to cope with other types of text (Gadd 1998). A combination of teacher-selected and learner-generated texts is therefore likely to be preferable.
  2. Handing over control may be seen as an ‘abdication of responsibility’. It may take time and patience to prepare learners to participate in learner-centred teaching.
  3. The relationship between learner-centred teaching and learner autonomy might not be as direct as it may seem.

Summary

Worth reproducing in full I think:

The focus in this chapter has been on learners producing materials for use in class by their classmates or other students. This has a number of positive effects as far as the learner is concerned, both in relation to motivation and learning. When learners are actively and creatively involved, motivation is increased; such activities as peer teaching (including correction) consistute a valuable and valued learning experience and can contribute to group solidarity. There are also benefits for the teacher. Monitoring learners as they discuss and prepare materials raises the teacher’s awareness of individual or general difficulties. Some of the material is potentially re-usable with learners in other classes. Teacher-preparation time is reduced. And because there will always be an element of unpredictability, the classroom is a more interesting place for the teacher as well as learners.

While the use of most of the activity-types described here is likely to lead to increased motivation, one type of material – that is, spoken (and recorded) and written texts produced by learners – is likely to be the most relevant from a linguistic perspective. Careful in-class analysis of this type of material, which is as finely tuned to learner level as it could be, is sure to be helpful not only for those involved in producing that text, but for others in the same class.

McGrath (2002) p177-178

I’ve used transcription with students before, but mostly only in one-to-one lessons, and only very rarely. I feel like this is a missed opportunity, and is definitely something I’d like to experiment with more if/when I get back into a classroom again.

Fluency revisited – Mike McCarthy

This was a recording of a guest lecture for NILE which is not publicly available – you’ll need to do the MAT course to get access to it. 🙂 Interesting points/reminders for me:

  • Fluency isn’t just a quality of the speaker, it’s a quality of the listener too (and the CEFR recognises this – see B2 criteria)
  • Fluency is an unusual term in our profession, because it’s one that’s understood by the general population too – we all have an idea of what fluency means.
  • If you translate fluency into other languages, it’s always related to the idea of ‘fluid’.
  • The two qualities of fluency are ease and readiness – we have to be able to start speaking pretty immediately, or listeners will wonder what the problem is. That’s why we use fillers when we’re thinking.
  • Fluency is an aspect of social capital for immigrants.
  • Our fluency can affect other people’s perception of us.
  • Conventional criteria for spoken fluency:
    • Speed of delivery
      Depending on the context – e.g. presentations v. conversations with friends (120wpm!) are different speeds
    • Pauses
      When, how often, how long, again depending on context – in conversation the average length is 0.6 seconds according to research
    • Dysfluencies
      Coherent messages
    • Automaticity
  • McCarthy’s suggested extra criteria
    • Can the learner use chunks accurately and automatically? (e.g. you know what I mean, or something like that)
      Most chunks are 2-5 words. We can process 7 chunks of information at once, after which we restart – this speeds up processing. These expressions are often culturally loaded, but are required for natural communication – without them we can sound like a robot or far too specific and detailed. There shouldn’t be pauses within the chunks – they are generally spoken very quickly. We cannot be fluent if we don’t have a range of chunks in our vocabulary, and if we can’t use them immediately and readily.
    • Can the learner use a repertoire of small interactive words? (e.g. just, so, actually, then, etc.)
      The lack of these words can affect our perception of fluency. These words carry a lot of extra information: compare Can I just ask you a question? to I don’t want to interrupt you but I need to ask you a question.
    • Can the learner link his/her turn smoothly to the previous speaker’s, using linking words and phrases, to create ‘flow’? (The technical term is ‘confluence’)
      20 or so words regularly start our turns in a conversation (see below). Without these words, the conversation sounds much less fluent / more robotic. Fluency is about being a speaker, but also showing you’re a listener at the same time. If students can react appropriately to something, we don’t need to test listening in a more traditional way – we shouldn’t test listening skills separately from speaking skills. “Good listening materials allow you to be the speaker and the listener at the same time.”

I had a look at Mike McCarthy’s website afterwards, and found a long list of videos you can watch, including (I think) a similar talk on fluency to the one I watched. The list also includes three videos for learners on how to use the chunks ‘you know’, ‘or something’ and ‘the thing is’.

Learner preferences and affective learning – Martin Parrott

This was another recording of a guest lecture for NILE in 2015 which is not publicly available – you’ll need to do the MAT course to get access to it. 🙂 Interesting points/reminders for me:

  • We tend to teach in the style we like to learn in. It’s important to remember that our learners are very varied, and have lots of different preferences.
  • Affective = to do with feelings, think about ‘affection’
    Effective = efficient, works well
  • Affective teaching = our learners can grow as people
  • SEAL = Society for Effective and Affective Learning, originally begun by the teachers who created Suggestopedia, and is an organisation for teachers interested in humanistic approaches. (I can’t seem to find a website for it through – not sure if it still exists?)
  • Benjamin Bloom – educational psychologist, known for Bloom’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain (Parrott says that we need to remember that we need comprehension before application), but he also created a taxonomy of the affective domain (Parrott particularly highlighted the fact that ‘value’ is repeated three times)
  • Carl Rogers – American psychoanalyst who became a psychotherapist – wrote about the relationship between the psychologist and their client, and has had a huge influence on teaching indirectly through the counselling model (and therefore Community Language Learning). Important features are:
    • Unconditional positive regard
      Not judging the client
    • Empathic understanding
      Moving away from your instinctive reaction to what is happening and finding out what students are really thinking – our perceptions of what learners are thinking are not always correct
    • Genuine-ness
    • Congruence
      Matching your body language and your words
  • Learner-centredness = consultation/involvement about content and style, the teacher keeps low profile, activities are collaborative and self-directed

This is a questionnaire Martin Parrott used to do some research with a class of 10-year-olds he was teaching and two other similar classes. He wanted to find out whether his learners valued affective or cognitive factors of lessons more.

The affective factors can be sub-divided into ones which the teacher can control directly (4, 5, 14 (8)) or only indirectly (1, 10, 11, 15).

His 10-year-old students said 7, 10, 11, 14 and 15 were not important, four of which are affective factors (!) 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 12 were all important. 4 and 13 were considered very important: one is affective, one is cognitive, and both are about the teacher. This goes against what we might think about learner-centredness.

He emphasises the importance of finding out about our learners as a group, and as individuals, and what they want, not what we think they want. We should also remember that their priorities might change throughout their time in the group based on their experiences in the class.

Martin also asked them what makes effective learning. They said they wanted a teacher who is funny, strict and fair – Martin hadn’t asked specifically about the teacher at all.

Martin has some warnings:

  • Don’t turn ‘affective learning’ into a method.
  • One model doesn’t ‘fit all’.
  • Don’t impose your own cultural values onto learners.

But remember that for many learners affective = effective – if learners feel they are learning, then they are happy. We need to find out first-hand from the learners want they want, and aim to provide this if we can.

2022 course dates and a new format now available – Take your time Delta Module One course

The first Take your time Delta Module One course has been running for three weeks now, and is going well (at least from my perspective!) I’ve got a lovely group of participants, and everybody is making good progress with what we’ve been studying. So far we’ve looked at the format of the exam, how to analyse the purpose of and assumptions behind exercises in a spread of materials, and understanding the phonemic chart and talking about phonology.

Some people have asked me about summer Delta Module One courses, so I’ve decided to create a new format. This will take place from June to August 2022, which will hopefully fit around summer holidays for those in the northern hemisphere. There will be three live 90-minute meetings per week, so the sessions listed above would be week 1, for example. After 9 weeks of more intensive work over the summer, there will be one meeting a month in September, October and November, leading up to the exam in December, and making a total of 30 sessions. Hopefully this will allow people to prepare for Module One when they don’t have the pressure of teaching their normal academic year timetable.

Here are the dates for all of the courses which are currently available:

DATES

  • Extensive, one academic year
    October 5th 2021 – May 31st 2022
    (ready for the Wednesday 1st June 2022 sitting)
    Zoom meetings on Tuesdays
    09:30-11:00 UK time
    > I’m still accepting people onto this course until 9th November – session 6
  • Extensive, one academic year
    March 11th – December 2nd 2022
    (ready for the Wednesday 7th December 2022 sitting)
    Zoom meetings probably on Fridays
    Exact time TBC depending on availability of participants
    > Early bird prices available until 18th February 2022
  • Summer course, 9 weeks + 3 monthly meetings
    June 27th-August 26th 2022 + 1 meeting each in the final week of September, October, November
    (ready for the Wednesday 7th December 2022 sitting)
    Zoom meetings on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
    Exact time TBC depending on availability of participants
    > Early bird prices available until 6th June 2022

You can find out more about the full course on the Take your time Delta Module One page on my blog, including information about the prices. You can apply for the course here.

Innovate ELT 2021 – day two

These are summaries of the talks I attended during day two of the OxfordTEFL Innovate ELT online conference on 1st and 2nd October 2021. Day one is here.

Note: when I’ve included links, sometimes they’re the ones the presenter included, sometimes they’re others which I’ve found. If you’re one of the presenters and would like me to change any of the links, please let me know!

Plenary – Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community – me 🙂

Here is a link to the blogpost detailing my talk.

Plenary – Not just diversity, but unity – Fiona Mauchline

If we’ve learnt anything in 2020-2021, it’s that we need people: to shape our lives, and to learn. Emerging from such isolating times, let’s reflect on how to employ not just ‘people in the room’ ELT approaches, but ‘between people in the room’ approaches. Connection: what language is for.

Fiona reminds us that while of course it is important to get more voices in the room and to focus on diversity, it is also important to consider the connections between the people in the room. She asked us:

  • What two things did you most miss about life while in lockdown or under restrictions?
  • What do you most miss about face2face conferences/ELT events?
  • How do you feel about group communication in a Zoom room with more than 3 people?

She reminds us how important it is to get students talking as early as possible in a session or lesson to break the ice and help students to feel comfortable sharing ideas – these questions were an example of that kind of activity.

Most of the answers in the chat showed that we missed the social aspects of life. There has been a lot about changing narratives and diversity over the past year, but the most important thing Fiona has noticed has been the need for connection and unity. Cohorts who met entirely online and never had any contact face-to-face first seemed to have less effective learning. Fiona shook up her teaching, for example by including sessions where she set things up and left the lesson for a while to give the students space and to move the focus away from her.

In many classrooms, both face-to-face and online, we all look in the same direction, which our brain interprets as a non-communicative situation. We’re all separate online, in different boxes, which our brain interprets as being apart and non-communicative. Even face-to-face, it’s hard to find images of classrooms with people really looking at each other – again, the body language implies not communicating.

We need to look at physically moving learners into communicative modes, rather than just having them speak to each other. Build on the social in your classrooms. Here are some ideas to do this:

Fiona said her plenary last was a ‘call to arms’ and this year it’s a ‘call to hugs’ 🙂

Fostering Learner Autonomy in Virtual Classes – Patricia Ramos Vizoso and Urszula Staszczyk

We all want to see our students bloom and become more autonomous learners. In this talk we will look into some practical ideas that can empower them to be more active and conscious participants in their language learning process, making the whole learning experience a memorable one for both them and us.

Learner autonomy is important because it leads to more efficient and effective learning (Benson, 2011). It helps them to become lifelong learners. Learners are more invested in their learning, and therefore more motivated, because they choose what works for them. They also understand the purpose and usefulness of lessons. Class time is not sufficient – learners need more time to really learn a language.

These are possible ways of focussing on learner autonomy:

In this talk, Ula and Patricia will focus on learner-based and teacher-based approaches.

To implement learning autonomy in class, be aware that it’s a process – it needs to be done regularly, step by step. For example, start by giving them choices (Do you want to do this alone or in pairs? Who do you want to work with?) You have to be consistent and patient – results might not be immediate. The teacher is a facilitator, not the source of knowledge. Try different things, and don’t be afraid to take risks – different things will work for different groups.

We could say that there are 3 phases of learner autonomy:

  • Kick-off: All learners have the potential to be autonomous, but we need to develop this potential. Teachers are there to help learners understand what that potential is and what options learners have.
  • Action: This is the ‘doing’ phase.
  • Reflection and Evaluation: Learners decide what worked and what didn’t.

Kick-off

Set goals: SMART objectives, a class goal contract, or unit objectives. Discuss these goals, keep track of them, and when learners lose motivation or go off track, discuss the goals again. Possible headings to help learners frame their goals:

  • What is your goal?
  • How do you plan to achieve this goal?
  • When and how often will you do the work?
  • How long will it take?
  • Who will evaluate your progress? How?

Learners might not know how to create goals like this, and will probably need support. Here is an activity you could do to help them, by presenting problems and solutions which students match, and learners decide which strategies they want to try out.

Acting

Give students choices in class:

  • Who will they work with? When?
  • How will they do tasks? Written, oral, video…?
  • What materials will they use?
  • What do they want to improve?

Encourage them to think about why they make these choices, not just what the choices are.

Another idea is a choice board:

The phrases on the right are feedback Patricia got from her students, which she conducted in their first language.

Other ideas for action: encourage peer correction, create checklists with students, flip lessons, micro presentations (1-3 minutes) based on topics they’re interested in, task-based learning, project-based lessons.

You can adapt activities from coursebooks or other materials you’re using to make tasks more autonomous – you don’t have to start from scratch. Small changes in instructions can make a different. For example, rather than ‘Write a summary’, change it to ‘Produce a summary’, then discuss what that might mean. Ula’s learners produced a mind map, bullet points, a comic strip, and a paragraph as their summaries, then did some peer feedback before they handed in the work. This is what Ula’s learners thought about these twists to the task:

Some tools Ula and Patricia mentioned:

Reflecting and evaluating

This could happen after an activity, after a class, or after a specific period of time. It can be individual or in groups. As with all parts of the learner autonomy process, it’s gradual and you need to support students to do this effectively.

  • ‘Can do’ statements
  • Guided reflection questions
    • What did we do today?
    • Why are we doing this?
    • How will this help your English?
    • What makes it difficult?
    • How can I make it easier next time?
    • Do you prefer to be told what to do or to choose what to do? [Helps learners/teachers to think about goals and strategies for achieving them, as well as encouraging students to take risks and try something new and not just do things which are easy for them]
  • 3 things I’ve learnt, 1 thing I’ll do better next week, 2 things I enjoyed
  • Reflective diaries (good for helping learners to see how their goals have/haven’t changed over time, what strategies they’ve tried to use, what’s worked and what hasn’t)
  • Emoticons work with young learners:

The reflection stage gives you as a teacher useful feedback too about how to improve your implementation of learner autonomy in the classroom.

Tools for reflection online might be:

“Why not just google it?”: dictionary skills in digital times – Julie Moore

This session will explore the unmediated world of online dictionaries, what ELT teachers really ought to know about online reference resources, and how we can pass that information onto our students to point them towards appropriate tools that will prove genuinely useful in their language learning journey.

Julie started off by telling us about the boom in learner dictionaries which happened in the late 1990s and how much the landscape of dictionaries has changed in the interim. Dictionaries are expensive to produce, but sales have plummeted.

Many teachers might still think about dictionary skills in relation to paper dictionaries, even if they use online dictionaries themselves. They also might not think about how to train learners how to use online dictionaries.

Paper v. online

Paper dictionaries are somewhat cumbersome and require some skill to access. HOwever, if learners bought a dictionary they were generally teacher-recommended, reliable and audience-appropriate (designed for learners).

Online lookups are quick, familiar and intuitive. You can use them wherever, whenever you like. You’re not tied to a single dictionary – you can look at lots of different resources. They’re ‘free’ (at least to some extent). However, they’re unmediated and can be difficult for students to navigate. Dictionaries online are for very different audiences and are often inappropriate for learners. They’re sometimes misleading, and it can be demotivating if learners don’t understand.

Dictionary sources

Teach learners to ask: Where is the information from? In the screenshot above, it says ‘Oxford Languages’, but who exactly is that? In this case, it came from Lexico, the Oxford University Press dictionary, and is aimed at first-language English speakers. There are specific Oxford dictionaries for learners though.

Collins Cobuild is aimed somewhere between first language and monolingual learners

Cambridge, Longman and Macmillan also have dictionaries for learners.

Merriam Webster is useful for American English speakers. Their main site is aimed at L1 speakers, but they have a learners dictionary.

The differences between them are mostly about formats – they are all high quality.

How much information is there?

The screenshot above is actually an excerpt from the longer entry. Here is the full entry from Lexico:

Vocabulary in definitions

In L1 dictionaries, the definition is often a higher level than the target word, often abstract and grammatically dense. This is not a problem for most L1 speakers, but can be a real challenge for learners. You can see examples above.

Compare these to learner dictionary definitions:

Learner dictionary definitions generally draw from a set list of words to create definitions, typically a list of 2000-3000 words. This means that B1 learners, maybe even A2 learners, should be able to access the definitions. Definitions are grammatically simple and accessible. Collins Cobuild use full sentence definitions, putting the word into a sentence.

Other information

In learner dictionaries, there is often extra information like word formation, pronunciation audio, Collins has video pronunciation for many words too and a curated set of example sentences. The first example sentence is often a ‘vanilla’ example – how the word is typically used. Many learners won’t read beyond the definition or the first sentence. Further sentences show colligation (grammar patterns), often with with bolded words to highlight the patterns. Sometimes the grammar patterns are spelt out separately, but not always. Other example sentences show collocations.

Learners need to know that all of this is available. Dictionary skills are still vital to teach to help learners work independently.

Teaching dictionary skills

When students ask what a word means, use it as an opportunity to look at a dictionary. In feedback on writing, you can give learners a link to help them find out more about vocabulary – they’re far more likely to follow up than if you just say ‘look it up in a dictionary’. It’s hard to resist clicking on a link!

If lots of learners have had the same problem, bring it into class.

Show learners how to use collocations dictionaries too – the Macmillan Collocations Dictionary is free, the Oxford one is a paid service.

[Unfortunately I had to miss the last few minutes of this very useful talk!]

Some feedback on your feedback – Duncan Foord

Tools and techniques for giving feedback to CELTA trainees and experienced teachers

The workshop is aimed at CELTA tutors and anyone who observes teachers and gives them feedback.

Despite the fact that this activity is probably the key element in the CELTA course and probably the most crucial developmental activity for practicing teachers, CELTA trainers and Directors of Studies are given relatively little training and guidance on how to do it well. In this workshop we will look at effective ways of providing feedback to novice and experienced teachers after observing them teach. Come to this workshop for some tips on how to do it better and how to continue to develop your skills as a trainer and mentor.

Constructive Feedback

  • Uses facts in support of observations
  • States the impact this had
  • Indicates what is preferable
  • Discusses the consequences (negative and positive)

Destructive Feedback

  • General comments, unsupported with specific examples
  • Blames, undermines, belittles, finds fault and diminishes the recipient
  • Gives no guidance for future behaviour
  • Delivery is emotional, aggressive or insulting

The first area of giving general comments, is probably the most common one that I’ve been guilty of – I’ve worked hard on this part of my feedback.

Thinking about comments

Are these observer comments useful? Is so, why? If not, why not, and how would you improve them?

  • You didn’t correct students enough in the lesson today.
  • Tell me one thing that went well and one that didn’t go so well.
  • Did you achieve your aims today?
  • It’s difficult grading your language to a new level.
  • Some students arrived late, but that wasn’t your fault.
  • Tom (peer trainee), what did you think of Marta’s lesson today?
  • Vladimir and Keiko were very quiet in the pair work activity. Why do you think that was?
  • Do you think you used ICQs enough?
  • How could you set up that conversation task more effectively next time?

This task prompted a lot of discussion in our breakout room. We talked about the usefulness of questions like:

  • How did X affect your students?
  • How did the students respond to X/when you did X?
  • What evidence do you have that X was useful to your students?

These were Duncan’s ideas:

‘Tell me about one thing that went well and one that didn’t go so well’ – this doesn’t give a lot of support in terms of what ‘well’ means, and turns the lesson into some kind of talent show. I’d never thought about this before – definitely going to stop asking that!

Aims – what if the aims weren’t very good in the first place? The changing the aims question invites the teacher to reflect on how useful their aims actually were.

It’s not useful to wallow in the idea of difficulty. It would be better to look at solutions.

We should mention the students in our feedback, rather than focussing only on the dynamic between the tutor and the teachers.

Frame the question from the point of view of its outcomes: Did students understand what they had to do in the role play activity? If trainees can see the consequence, they’re more likely to look for solutions.

Look to the future: How could you…more effectively next time? Rather than How would you have…? What would you have…?

It’s important for teachers to see the consequences on the students, rather than the consequences on the ticklist in yours/the teacher’s head.

Feelings: if the teacher needs to grieve something, or is really upset, you can ask ‘How did you feel about the lesson?’ but if not the question isn’t necessarily that useful.

Key takeaways

  1. Be specific and mention students all the time.
    How well did students understand the language point you were teaching them? How did Vladimir and Lucia deal with that activity?
  2. Work with facts not opinions, the lesson not the teacher.
    Abdellah did not participate in the pair activity.
  3. Focus on key points, don’t get distracted with trivia.
    What did students learn/practise? Was it useful? What was the atmosphere in class like?

Duncan boils down the essentials of a lesson to:

  • Did the students learn or practise anything?
  • Was it any use?
  • What was the atmosphere like?

This is one way to start feedback. It’s also probably what students are asking about lessons themselves too.

You ask them those questions, and can lead on to ‘What are the consequences of this?’ / ‘What does all this mean?’ It can make it easier during a course for trainees to realise that that’s why a lesson has failed to meet criteria too. If it’s a fail lesson, it can also be easier to tell the trainee right at the start as otherwise they could well be distracted trying to work out if it’s a fail; then the discussion is about what you can do to make it a pass next time.

Coffee break

There were regular one-hour coffee breaks throughout the conference. I went to the final one from the conference. This was a great way to have chats with small groups of people. I chatted to teachers in Toronto, Benin, Moscow, and Saudi Arabia, among others. I really liked this feature 🙂

We were also told about the Oxford TEFL online community for teachers OT Connect, particularly for newly-qualified teachers or for those who don’t get CPD elsewhere, but it could be good for lots of people.

Engaging learners online with hand-drawn graphics – Emily Bryson

Simple drawings are an effective tool to teach vocabulary, make grammar intelligible, and support students to attain essential life skills. This workshop demonstrates innovative graphic facilitation activities to use in class—and will convince you that anyone can draw! Get ready to activate your visual vocabulary to engage your learners online.

Emily stopped drawing as a teenager, but then a graphic facilitator visited her college a few years ago and now she uses it all the time. She trains others in how to use it, and is constantly learning to improve her own drawing.

There is research to show that drawing helps learning to remember vocabulary. There can be a wow factor to drawing too – it’s not as hard as people think.

This is an example of a visual capture sheet:

Emily asked us to use the stamp tool in annotate to mark the wheel to show what we do with drawing already – I like this as a Zoom activity 🙂

Ideas for including drawings in lessons:

  • Include images in classroom rules posters.
  • Ask students to draw pictures to accompany their vocabulary.
  • Introduce sketchnotes.
  • Introduce icons which learners can draw regularly, as a kind of visual vocabulary.
  • Draw a notebook to show learners exactly how to lay out their notes, especially if you’re trying to teach study skills.
  • Use gifs – make sure they’re not too fast as they can trigger epilepsy. You can save a powerpoint as jpgs, then upload it to ezgifmaker. A frame rate of 200 works well.
  • Use mind maps. Miro works well online for this.
  • Have a set of icons/images – each one could be a new line of a conversation, or the structure of a writing text, or to indicate question words as prompts for past simple questions, like this:
  • Create an image to indicate a 5-year plan. Two hills in the background, with a road leading towards them. What would be at the top of the hill for you? What would your road map be?
  • Use visual templates (in the classroom or on Jamboard):
  • Draw a mountain and a balloon. The students have to work out how to get the balloon over the moutain. The mountain was the challenges facing them in their English learning, the balloon was the learning itself.
  • Visual capture sheets can be more engaging:
  • Drawing storytelling. Emily uses this to teach phonics as part of ESOL literacy, especially for learners who can’t write in their first language. It gives them something they can study from at home. Emily showed us how she uses a visualiser to help the students see the story as she draws it, with them sounding out the words as they understand the story.
  • Use images to check understanding – learners annotate which image is which, or to answer questions.
  • Encourage critical thinking, for example by having some images in grey and others in colour.
  • Start with a blob or a squiggle. Learners say what it could/might be, and can draw on top of it too:

Anybody can draw 🙂 Emily showed us how to draw based on the alphabet. For example, a lightbulb is a U-shape, with an almost O around it, a zig zag, a swirl, and you can add light if you want to:

For listening, the icon might be a question mark with an extra curl at the bottom, and a smaller one inside, with sound waves too if you want them to be.

For reading, draw a rectangle for the cover, two lines from the top for pages, and some C shapes down the side to make it spiral bound.

For writing, draw a rectangle at an angle, with a triangle at the bottom = pencil. Add a small rectangle at the top, plus a clip = pen. Draw a larger rectangle behind = writing on a piece of paper.

If you’re not sure how to draw an icon, just search for it – ‘motivation icon’, ‘study skills icon’ for example – it can be much easier to copy an icon than to copy a picture. The Noun Project has lots of different ideas too.

As Pranjali Mardhekar Davidson said in the comments, all drawings can be broken down into basic shapes. This makes it much less intimidating!

Emily’s message: Feel the fear, and draw anyway! 🙂 and if you’d like to find out more, you can join one of Emily’s courses. Her blog is www.EmilyBrysonELT.com where there are lots more ideas too. You can share your drawings using #drawingELT

Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community (Innovate ELT 2021 plenary)

I was very happy to open day 2 of the second online Innovate ELT conference on 2nd October 2021 with a 15-minute plenary. The topic was ‘Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community’ and the abstract was:

Sharing your ideas with others is a great way to develop professionally. But where do you start? There are now myriad ways of getting your work out there, without having to go down the traditional route of writing for publishers. In this plenary, I’ll talk about some of the ways in which self-publishing, blogging and other ways of sharing practice are changing the landscape of teacher writing, and how you can get involved too.

In The Developing Teacher, Duncan Foord talks about 5 circles of development as a way of thinking about how you can develop professionally in a range of different ways. [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]

Image from Duncan’s TED Afyon May 2016 presentation

I’ll look at how you can write professionally at each level of this framework. You could start from the centre and work outwards, or jump in wherever you feel comfortable.

You

The simplest way to start writing professionally is to keep a teaching journal for yourself. You can make notes after every lesson, choose one group or student to write notes about each week, summarise what you’ve learnt at the end of each week and what you’d like to work on in the following week…the only limit to what you write is your imagination! If you’re stuck for ideas, my ELT Playbook 1 has 30 ideas for possible journal writing tasks [find out more].

You and your students

Most of us adapt or create materials for our students. Getting feedback on your materials from students is a great way of developing your writing skills. You could ask them about the amount of information on the materials, the layout, the clarity of any explanations, and/or the way you used the materials with the students. Find out what does and doesn’t work, and experiment with new ideas.

You and your colleagues

Once you’ve started reflecting on your lessons and getting feedback on the materials you produce, why not discuss this with your colleagues? You could share materials you’ve created with other teachers working with similar groups, and find out how the materials worked with their students. You could have a go at writing some teachers notes to go with the materials too. With your reflections, you could share key points you’ve learnt, activities you’ve tried, or questions you have in a WhatsApp group. Alternatively, organise a meeting with colleagues to share your ideas and volunteer to write a summary of what you all learnt. These are all ways to share your writing with your colleagues.

You and your school

The next step is to share your writing more widely, potentially creating something more lasting for the school community rather than purely for colleagues you work with right now. You could put together a course of materials which could be run over a number of sessions and reused multiple times. What about creating an introductory guide to particular aspects of your job, for example, how to run conversation classes or how to teach young learners on Zoom?

You and your profession

Now that you’ve got all of this writing experience behind you, you can really start to exploit the many opportunities there are out there for sharing your writing with the wider profession, many of which weren’t possible 20 years ago but have now made it possible for anybody to share their writing. You could start a blog – I did this over 10 years ago now, and in the process I’ve developed hugely as a writer in the process. Short-form writing works well on Twitter, Instagram or other social media – there are huge communities of teachers on most platforms. For longer-form writing, why not look at writing an article for magazines like English Teaching Professional, Modern English Teacher or Humanising Language Teaching, or for teaching associations like IATEFL or your local association? For full-length book projects, you could try completely independent self-publishing, though this means you need to do all of the marketing yourself, or contact small independent publishers like these to help you with your writing projects:

But why me?

As there is already so much writing out there, you might wonder why anybody would want to read what you have to offer. Remember that your voice and your experience is unique – nobody else has experienced teaching in quite the same way you have, and what you have to share is valuable. It may take a while to build an audience, but with time, patience, and consistently good quality writing, you will.

Getting support

When publishing your writing for a wider audience, especially if you want to make some money from it, I would highly recommend paying for an editor to look at your work before you share it. The feedback and support you will get from them will increase the quality of your writing, and you’ll learn a lot from the process. No matter how good you think your materials are or your proofreading is, your work will always benefit from somebody else looking at it.

For more ideas and support, I recommend joining IATEFL MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) [disclaimer – I’m on the committee!] Even if you don’t join, you can still find lots of information on their blog, covering many different aspects of materials writing: everything from producing materials for your classroom right through to working for publishers. You could also look at MATSDA, the Materials Development Association.

What are you waiting for?

If this inspires you to get writing, or to share your writing for the first time, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Good luck and happy writing!

Innovate ELT 2021 – day one

These are summaries of the talks I attended during day one of the OxfordTEFL Innovate ELT online conference on 1st and 2nd October 2021. Day two is here.

Note: when I’ve included links, sometimes they’re the ones the presenter included, sometimes they’re others which I’ve found. If you’re one of the presenters and would like me to change any of the links, please let me know!

Plenary – Facing forward, looking back – Duncan Foord

What can we learn from looking at the history of ELT? I will be sharing my personal take on how I think we have done over the last 60 years, “Things that went well and points to consider…”

Duncan started by asking us whether we think that ELT is better now than it was 60 years ago, for English teachers or students. 92% think yes, nobody said no, 8% said don’t know (of 37 responses). Some of the reasons people gave:

  • More communicative
  • More research
  • Easier to access support from around the world
  • More student-centred
  • English more accepted as a lingua franca

Duncan’s reason for picking 60 years was that the pre-cursor to CELTA started in 1962, giving ELT a practical, hands-on qualification you could do to become a teacher: ‘ELT as craft’. ELT became a professional activity. We become teachers by actually teaching, not just studying it.

Another reason Duncan thinks ELT has improved is ‘the human touch’. We’re bringing humans together by enabling them to communicate with each other internationally. We see teachers and students working together across cultural boundaries that politics may not normally allow (e.g. US and Iranian teachers working together). An awareness of classroom dynamics and increased personalisation encourage learner-centredness, recognising learners as individuals, and making things more democratic through activities like pair- and groupwork.

The third reason is that there is there is a clear framework through the CEFR to make learners of where they are and where they’re going. This framework isn’t a list of grammar points, but a list of ‘can do’ statements.

A counterpoint is (was? around 2010?) a kind of ‘tech fetish’, pushing the craft of teaching to one side. He thinks that has calmed down now and that there is more of a balance between technology and craft, rather than technology taking over.

This gives us 3 C’s. We should aim to keep the dynamic of improving what we do (Craft), keep our strong sense of community (Community), and Coach learners in how to use materials and resources – we don’t have to bring all of the materials in ourselves.

Am I asking the right questions? – Teresa Bestwick

Why talk about questions? I could simply answer ‘Why not?’ but there are so many other reasons which we’ll explore in this talk. We’ll have a critical think about the types of questions we ask our learners, colleagues and the teachers we train, as well as those we ask ourselves.

When we start a session/lesson, we can have some questions on display to give attendees/learners something to think about. Questions can be:

  • Closed – yes/no
  • Open
  • Display – we know the answer, but we want the learners to demonstrate particular language they know.
  • Referential – I don’t know the answer to it, and I’m interested to find out more.
  • Convergent – limited number of answers.
  • Divergent – encourages the use of creativity, critical thinking skills etc.

Closed questions aren’t always bad. Sometimes they can be useful for checking understanding or language. Teresa shared three links to help people improve their ICQs and CCQs:

When we ask students a question, wait time is important. We need to make sure students have thinking time. We also need to give students the language to be specific about ‘I don’t know’:

  • I understand the question, but I don’t know the answer.
  • I know the answer, but I don’t know how to say it in English.
  • Language of speculation: Could it be…? Might it be…? Is it possibly…? allows students space to not have to be correct, and can be empowering.

Questions we ask students:

Questions encourage an answer.

Think about how you respond to content – don’t be insensitive by only focussing on language.

Never underestimate the power of follow-up questions.

Would you rather…? or If you were a… questions can be really motivating for students and prompt a lot of discussion.

Questions can be used as a behaviour management tool – pose a question to help learners notice their behaviour.

Use exit tickets [I’ve done this in the teen face-to-face classroom for the last two years, and it works really well – individual feedback for each learner, and a great way for you to check each person’s understanding.] Here are some more examples of EFL exit tickets:

  • One question I have about what we did today is…
  • Write three MCQs about today’s lesson.
  • Write two questions to ask me/your partner using the grammar or vocab from today.

Questions we ask ourselves:

When you have a problem, if you can turn it into a question, you can start looking for solutions.

Teresa mentioned Heron’s six categories of intervention, which she first came across in Duncan Foord’s The Developing Teacher [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]. She also recommend Rachel Tsateri’s blogpost. These are different ways of framing questions when helping yourself or others to reflect. Here are some of the questions stems you might want to use:

It’s important to ask ourselves questions to help ourselves to develop. These are some of the examples Teresa mentioned:

  • What do I love about what I do?
  • What am I looking forward to in my career?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What’s working for me?
  • What’s one area I’d like to improve in?
  • How am I developing this month?
  • How will this help me?

Teresa recommended two books:

The TEFL Development Hub

This is the community which Teresa is a co-founder of, with Simon Pearlman. They have a website and are on facebook. They post a question every Wednesday to get teachers thinking. Whenever anybody posts anything in the Hub, it has to be a question. Their weekly meetings are also based around questions.

A thought we were left with:

How to tell a story – Jamie Keddie

Good storytellers make it look easy. They might lead you to believe that it’s all about spontaneous, improvised performances. But don’t be fooled. Successful storytelling requires planning, reflection and attention to detail. In this workshop, I would like to share some basic principles that will allow you to develop your classroom storytelling skills. 

We’re not born being able to tell stories. It’s a skill we can get better at.

Jamie is talking about short stories from the teacher as a way to engage the students and get them doing things. He started off with a list:

  • Madame Tussauds
  • The Tower of London
  • Superman 2
  • The Egyptian mummies at the British Museum

We had to guess what the list was about, and then Jamie told us the story. Guessing first was a great way to get us engaged. He asked us what we thought he was most excited about – these questions kept us involved all the way through.

One of Jamie’s favourite themes is misunderstandings and miscommunications. He asked us if any of us had a story we wanted to tell about this. I got some useful feedback on my story 🙂 and enjoyed listening to others’ stories too.

He asked us about ingredients for successful storytelling. Often he gets answers related to performance techniques or teacher talk techniques, for example eye contact, pauses, body language. We suggested ideas like framing the story, personalisation, being concise, involving the audience. Jamie thinks we see storytelling wrong: we focus on the performance, rather than the preparation and process that goes into it beforehand to give the structure.

Sometimes we can ask too many questions in our stories as teachers. If we’ve got a good story, it’s naturally involving. Don’t just ask ‘Can you guess what it’s about?’ – give them some fuel to help them guess, like Jamie’s list at the start. Questions like ‘What do you think happened?’ ‘Why do you think he did that?’ – these are much stronger questions. After a good story, the listener might have unanswered questions – this isn’t a problem, it shows they’re engaged.

It’s useful to look for a ‘way in’ to the story, a ‘hook’. We don’t have to go in through the door of the story – we can break in through the window, go down the chimney, steal an elephant from the zoo and crash through the walls 🙂 These hooks can be useful for comprehension and to give the learners some help in understanding the story. It doesn’t have to be something super clever – it can draw attention to some of the content in the story, like giving them a title, key words, asking questions about a concept in the story (mine was about code-switching for example, so asking about this could work), lists…they can all help the students to make connections.

Set up can be very important – don’t neglect it, because this gives the context people need to understand the story. When preparing, think about how to draw attention to the details, and what order to mention them in. This can help to make the story more impactful. How descriptive can you get? Should you add more details? Or remove details? We can draw attention to certain information in the story, for example by pauses or by the order we mention things in.

To manage the time, students can record a ‘talking head’ video of their story, rather than telling their story live during the lesson.

If you’d like to find out more about storytelling and see examples, Jamie’s website is LessonStream. He also runs a storytelling course for teachers.

Teaching, Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Presences in Action – Tyson Seburn

The Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001) identified four aspects of enriching online educational spaces: teaching, cognitive, social, and (most recently) emotional presences. Twenty years later, these were thrust into action for everyone to varying degrees of success. But what are they? We’ll explore them here.

[I missed the start of this session]

Tyson is talking about asynchronous and blended courses.

To increase his teaching presence, Tyson uses:

  • Colours to show the students to guide them in what they need to do in online tasks. For example, highlighted in blue if they’re working in groups, highlighted in pink if they’re working alone.
  • Teaching tips to help the students use the medium better.
  • Emojis to show what is a handout, a recorded lesson, a task to complete etc.
  • Layout of the tasks – week one is a top-level heading, tasks that are part of week one are indented.
  • Have a forum where they can ask questions specifically.

Teaching presence can also come from students, not just the teacher.

  • Have roles for students within an activity / task.
  • They can answer each other’s questions about concepts / instructions.
  • Give peer feedback and evaluation.

Cognitive presence is about exploration. How are the students exploring the materials?

  • Vary engagement type, for example through different interaction patterns or different types of website/tool.
  • Encourage learners to contribute information.
  • Create spaces where the students need to make connections between different parts of the materials, and ask questions of the materials rather than just accepting what’s there.
  • Allow students to come to conclusions themselves, rather than supplying the conclusions to them. A reflective journal could be a good way to do this.

Social presence is about interaction and community. How can we can create spaces where students have to interact and give them opportunities to do so? How can we create a community where students feel bonded together and with the teacher?

  • Conversation and dialogue: how and where can we create these opportunities? Not just top-down, but students speaking to each other.
  • How can we humanise the experience of learning? For example, one teacher added a forum that they clicked through to where they were sharing pictures of their pets – this was a reward for those who were actually reading and checking the forums 🙂
  • Creating bonds and togetherness.
  • Encourage students to express (dis)agreements.

Tyson mentioned some different tools he’s played with, like Reface for some amusement (though I find this a bit disturbing!), or Padlet. Padlet has a map function to add pins to a map – not one I’d seen before.

Social presence could include giving the students conversational gambits which they can use in forums, for example for agreeing and disagreeing. This helps them to connect with each other.

Majeski, Stover and Valais (2018) added emotional presence to the list. This includes:

  • Emotional perception – can they recognise emotions?
  • Understanding – can they understand the emotions of others?
  • Faciliation – can they use emotions in a constructive way?
  • Management – can they recognise when emotions are causing disruption in their learning and think about strategies to deal with this?

The final presence is to some extent embedded in the other three presences which were proposed by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000). These presences can help you in a range of ways:

These are Tyson’s references:

Demo Lesson – How to approach a text from an eco-linguistic perspective – Daniel Barber

The ecological issues we face call into question the stories we live by. Eco-linguistics offers teachers tools to examine the stories behind classroom texts. Do they teach compassion for the living planet? In this lesson, students will read and discuss a text through eco-linguistic filters to discover the underlying message.

One of the interesting features of Innovate ELT conferences is the live lessons with real students followed by guided discussion, but this is the first time I’ve made it to one. I thought it would be nice to go to something different something when attending this conference. I’ve also never really been sure about how to bring the environment into lessons where it’s not already present in the materials. There were students from all over the world: the Netherlands, Myanmar, Switzerland (but in Russia), Peru and Belarus. It was interesting to see somebody else teaching on Zoom, apart from anything else!

Daniel set up the lesson by showing students a picture of Christmas puddings in the shops in September in the UK. This was a prompt for a discussion about celebrations and the importance of celebrations in different countries.

The next stage was introducing the title of the article: 2021 Holiday Shopping Predictions: 3 Trends to Watch. This prompted a discussion about changes in students’ shopping habits over the last couple of years.

Throughout both of these stages, Daniel had a box on each slide called ‘Vocab notes’ where he added phrases that came up during the dicscussions.

There was a link to the text and a list of questions for the students to answer. I liked the layout of the slide (shown as a thumbnail below), with the text on the left and the questions on the right. Each paragraph of the text had a different coloured background, making it easier to read than if it was purely black on white (or at least, I think it was!)

After the comprehension stage, Daniel asked students to match hidden messages to specific parts of the text which he’d highlighted. For example, the line ‘The store shopping experience adds to the magic’ in the text could be match to the hidden message ‘Shopping is an exciting adventure’. There was also the idea that people were called ‘consumers’ throughout the whole text – we are only seen as people spending money.

At the end of the lesson, we had 10 minutes to chat to the students and ask them some questions about the lesson based around the idea of hidden messages in texts, questioning messages and assumptions we make individually and collectively, and the overall themes of the lesson. This idea of hidden messages in texts was interesting for me, as it’s not something I’ve really thought about working on with students before.

When we came back together as a whole group afterwards, the discussion was interesting with both students and teachers sharing ideas about the lesson. Daniel presented this as one way of encouraging students to think about messages in texts without falling into lecturing them on what they should think.

If you’d like to find out more about ecolinguistics, the Wikipedia article provides a useful starting point. There is a free online course called The Stories We Live By from The University of Gloucestershire and The International Ecolinguistics Association if you’d like to find out more.

This was definitely an interesting format, and well done to Daniel for putting himself out there by teaching a lesson with 11 teachers observing him!

The quiz

Day one ended with a quiz in the ‘Zoom garden’, which is a lovely idea. I’m off to join in now 🙂